Writing a cover letter can be one of the hardest parts of the job search. No matter how many times you've written one, it's easy to doubt yourself.
The good news is there are specific, concrete tips you can follow to write cover letters that will get you hired. Here are some of the most important pointers to know:
1. Write a New Letter for Each Position
This sounds incredibly daunting, but it is necessary if you want to prove to hiring managers you're invested in the role. If you push out the same old cover letter to every company, employers will be able to tell.
Writing a new letter doesn't mean starting from scratch every time. Reuse phrases and paragraphs from previous cover letters that are relevant to the role you're applying for, but be sure each letter is tailored to the specific position and business. One great tip is to outline the letter first, as it will speed up the whole writing process.
2. Use the SBO Format
SBO stands for situation, behavior, outcome. This is a great strategy for answering questions during interviews, but it can be equally effective in cover letters.
Start by describing a situation you've experienced that is pertinent to the position you're applying for – e.g., a time you disagreed with a coworker about a project. Then, explain the behavior you used to fix the problem – e.g., talk about how you listened to your coworker's concerns and blended your ideas with theirs for the good of the project. Finally, explain how your behavior directly influenced the outcome of the situation – e.g., by collaborating with your coworker, you were able to generate higher profits with the project.
3. Be Confident in Your Abilities
You don't have to be arrogant to know what you're good at. Don't lead sentences with "I believe" or "I think." Employers want you to be sure of yourself.
4. Keep It to a Page in Length
Like your resume, your cover letter should be no longer than a page. While it's tempting to include as much information as possible to convince the company to hire you, a shorter cover letter will better keep the reader's attention. They don't need to know every single detail of your work history, just the relevant ones.
5. Don't Repeat Your Resume
If a hiring manager is reading your cover letter, it's because your resume has already grabbed their attention. They don't need to reread it in paragraph form. It's fine to talk about experiences that are included in your resume, but if you do, be sure to expand on them. Write less about the duties you performed and more about the ways you exceeded expectations or thought outside the box.
6. Display Your Personality
Anyone can look good on paper. Job seekers forget that companies don't just want someone with skills – they want someone who will also fit in with the team. If your cover letter sounds like every other applicant's cover letter, the employer won't be able to see the person behind the accomplishments.
7. Talk About Your Life Experiences
Related to showing the real person behind the cover letter, making connections between non-professional experiences and the position can show the hiring manager you're a well-rounded person who can draw upon personal knowledge to get things done. One example might be talking about how studying abroad in college taught you to connect with different people and navigate new situations.
8. Clarify Any Gaps in Employment
Recruiters and hiring managers understand how tough the job market can be. Your cover letter is a place to explain why you were laid off (without the sordid details, of course) or why you took a gap year after college. Employers will be much more understanding if they know the reasons behind the gaps on your resume.
9. Highlight Aspects of the Company You Appreciate
It's always a good idea to thoroughly research a company before you apply. Use the information you find to show why you would be a good fit for the company. If you appreciate the organization's emphasis on face-to-face client interaction, then say so. This will demonstrate that you not only did your research, but also align with the company's values.
10. Reread and Edit Over and Over
You might be surprised how neglectful applicants can be with their cover letters. Check every aspect of the document, like your formatting, the correct address and company name, the hiring manager's name, etc. If a company can't trust you to correctly format a cover letter, it won't be able to trust you with the position's responsibilities.
Writing a great cover letter is crucial to nailing a job application. There is no around it: You're going to have to spend a lot of time on your cover letters. However, these practical tips will give you more direction and make the process far less painful – and far more rewarding.
Harris Roberts writes online for multiple publications. He has an interest in startups and small business growth. He previously worked as director of accounts at a small boutique creative agency.